The Montreal Jazz Festival is known for straying off jazz music’s beaten path with an eclectic mix of music genres. However, this was the first time I’ve heard thrash at the annual event. Yes, for one night the world-famous festival put away its bowtie and buttoned-down shirt and put on a studded jean jacket for a metal blowout for the ages.
Montreal’s René Lussier and Robbie Kuster opened the show with an unusual and experimental set. Lussier used a strange mix of props on his guitar, including a violin bow, electric toothbrushes, and other devices I couldn’t identify. The sound was weirdly compelling, though, and suited the free-thinking, improvised style of jazz. Lussier made fun of the duo’s offbeat songs, saying “the crowd participation bit was coming near the end.” This statement was even more amusing in the context of a Voivod concert which involved a great deal of interaction with the audience.
It’s hard to think of a more legendary Quebec metal band than Jonquière’s Voivod. This special performance at Club Soda felt like a reunion of the city’s metal heads, who packed the venue and made almost as much noise as the band. The crowd sang along with every lyric, and quite a few super-fans predicted each song before it came on, nodding with approval all night. I can see knowing every word to, say, a Metallica set, but Voivod? As I said, these guys are legends in this part of the country.
The band was fast, tight, and seemed genuinely humbled to play at this festival. But, for me, the best part was the audience. The venue was packed with old school thrash fans who looked like they just walked off the set of a Quebec version of Fubar. They hung on every word by vocalist and co-founder Denis “Snake” Bélanger and banged their head in unison with guitarist Daniel “Chewy” Mongrain. During “Voivod” they finished every line of the song, and by the end were chanting each band member’s name as if they had just won the Stanley Cup. It was easily the most inspired and energetic house I’ve seen in years.
Voivod’s performance was legendary, but I couldn’t help but think thrash metal was just too heavy for a jazz festival. Sure, the band has plenty of complex and progressive songs, but, after all, it is very hardcore for even the most open-minded of jazz fans. The whole debate about whether or not non-jazz bands should play at Jazz Fest is getting old, though. And, as Snake himself put it, “it’s all just music anyway.”
It all made sense after Voivod played a track from their 2018 album The Wake called “The End of Dormancy” with a five-piece brass section. I know, it sounds gimmicky: metal band uses token horn players for one song at Jazz Fest. It actually worked, though, because the punchy horn stabs suited the intense metal sound and brought the song to another level of thrash innovation. I laughed out loud when Bélanger called the brass section “Les Meteaux,” and this capped off a night that will surely be written into Quebec’s heavy metal lore.
Written by Rob Coles
Photography by Marc-Antoine Morin
*edited by Mike Milito